The coronavirus pandemic has hit photographers hard. Times are tough, but we’re a creative and resilient bunch. We reached out to some professional photographers to ask how restrictions imposed by cities, states and the federal government have affected their businesses. We also wanted to know how they were adapting—both their own lives and their businesses—to the challenges of these difficult times.
The first photographer in this series is Mary Louise Ravese, owner of Bella Vista Photography, a North Carolina-based nature and fine art photographer, teacher and workshop leader.
How has the COVID-19 situation affected you and your business?
The pandemic has affected my business in a major way: most of my different income channels were completely shut down. Classes and workshops had to be cancelled or at best postponed, art shows were cancelled, art galleries were closed, in-person lessons stopped, speaking engagements were cancelled. Even workshops scheduled for the summer and fall were affected because all registrations abruptly stopped. It was dramatic, all-encompassing, across all geographic regions, and happened within a few days.
What are you doing to adapt—either to mitigate the damage or explore new possibilities?
I’ve been doing triage activities for weeks now.
- For a lot of activities I was a contractor for another organization and had no control as to what would happen. I asked those organizations for a letter describing what my lost income was. These letters could then be used when applying for grants as proof of lost income.
- For activities that were run from my own company, like my own workshops, I was able to reach out to both the venues and the participants to try to postpone those activities to a later date. While I was able to achieve that, the workshop fees that I had collected had to be held in escrow in case they needed to be returned, so that money didn’t help my short term cash flow.
- I am lucky that some of my photography principles or technique classes could be taught online via video conferencing. So I researched different platforms, found a suitable platform and am in the process of rolling out online class options.
- While my website had the ability for people to purchase some of my photographs, it was more geared towards me creating artwork on demand. Well, with it now being difficult to get some of the supplies needed to create new artwork, I needed another option. Fortunately, I have a wealth of inventory on hand for my art shows, so I added a special section on my website that enables people to order in-stock inventory for immediate shipping. Each day I try to add a few more items to that section of the website. I’ve been notifying my mailing list subscribers about this new option, as well as putting it on my business Facebook page.
- I’ve also added new offerings I didn’t have before like online sessions with clients, whether that’s a private lesson, a portfolio review or a coaching/mentoring session at 25% off through May 31, 2020.
- I posted a short, ten-question survey to find out what types of online classes people would like to see offered.
Has this crisis taught (or reinforced) any lessons about the business side of nature photography?
Absolutely, I thought I was diversified in my offerings because I had different income channels and was working in different geographic areas. I have always wanted to do more online, but up until now it was more of a “back burner project” I’d work on when I had spare time. This crisis taught me that online income channels are absolutely an essential part of the business. The crisis also made it clear that I need to monitor my business’ financial situation more regularly. I need to make sure that I have enough savings to last several months for covering business essential costs. It will also probably impact how I approach doing high cost workshops, especially travel-based workshops. In the future, I’ll have to consider what insurance I carry, what my cancellation policies are, or even if I do them through my small company or work with a larger workshop company instead.
If there’s anything else you’ve experienced that you’d like to mention?
There are some assistance resources for professional artists out there. Through my local arts council and state arts council I was able to find out about grants I could apply for. So far I have received a little bit of money through those grant applications. Unfortunately, it’s a fairly trivial amount in comparison to my monthly burn rate. Art councils can also provide some recommendations for resources to help small businesses move more online. The COVID-19 Response section of NANPA’s website has links to a variety of grants, loans and other financial resources for photography businesses. It’s also worth mentioning that the Small Business Administration is a good source for help, particularly on COVID-19 small business loans and funding.
Mary Louise Ravese is a professionally-trained photographer producing award-winning imagery in color and black and white. She specializes in fine art nature, travel and creative photography from locations across the world. Her photographs can be found in private, university & corporate collections in over 40 states, and are exhibited nationally. Mary Louise’s images have been published in calendars, magazines, books and websites, including special projects for National Geographic Maps and The Nature Conservancy. For her, photography represents the confluence of art and science, of imagination and application. As well as being a successful practitioner, Mary Louise is also an experienced instructor who has trained hundreds of amateur photographers. She enjoys teaching both the technical and aesthetic aspects of photography. Her expertise is frequently sought as a speaker and competition judge for photography clubs around the country. Based in North Carolina, she leads classes and workshops at a variety of locations across the US and abroad through her company Bella Vista Photography